…antes de tiempo y casi en flor cortada

Another poem by Rafael Alberti to pay tribute to one of his illustrious predecessors in Spanish poetry, this is a lament on the death of Garcilaso de la Vega, killed from injuries sustained in battle four hundred years previously in 1536. Compare with this other Alberti poem posted on this blog, “Si Garcilaso volviera”, posted on May 16th 2015.

An elegy, of course, is usually a poem of mourning for the dead, and this is no exception.

Alberti evokes all of nature grieving around the lifeless body and now pointless armour of the soldier/poet Garcilaso, cut down before his time, like a flower, as it says at the beginning of the poem. Very moving.



Elegia a Garcilaso


Rafael Alberti


… antes de tiempo y casi en flor cortada.




Hubierais visto llorar a las yedras cuando el agua más triste se pasó toda una noche velando a un yelmo ya sin alma,

a un yelmo moribundo sobre una rosa nacida en el vaho que duerme los espejos de los castillos

a esa hora en que los nardos más secos se acuerdan de su vida al ver que las violetas difuntas abandonan sus cajas

y los laúdes se ahogan por arrollarse a sí mismos.

Es verdad que los fosos inventaron el sueño y los fantasmas.

Yo no sé lo que mira en las almenas esa inmóvil armarnadura vacía.

¿Cómo hay luces que decretan tan pronto la agonía de las espadas

si piensan en que un lirio es vigilado por hojas que duran mucho más tiempo?

Vivir poco y llorando es el sino de la nieve que equivoca su ruta.

En el sur siempre es cortada casi en flor el ave fría.




From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/rafael-alberti-elegia-a-garcilaso.htm>


After the dedication to G. de la V., the first line of the poem proper kicks off with an imperfect subjunctive, which simultaneously sends a tingle down my spine and transports me to the far off place and time where Garcilaso met his untimely death (in the south of France, while an officer in Charles V’s army. ) The ivy is weeping over a lifeless helmet, and all around there is a symphony of loss and death from the roses, the thistles, the violets as the sound of lutes fades away. Alberti creates an atmospheric portrait of nature mourning the loss of Garcilaso.


As the poem progresses, Alberti introduces elements of the battle and its lugubrious outcome – pits, presumably mass graves from which nightmares and ghosts come forth; the battlements toward which Garcilaso’s lifeless armour is turned; the swords which bring death, while the lily-leaves go on living. The last two lines are haunting images of the brevity and sadness of life, leaving us with a deep sense of loss and  despair.


The Poetry Dude


Sal tú, bebiendo campos y ciudades,

I have posted a number of poems consisting of homage or recognition from one poet to another, and here is one from Rafael Alberti to his contemporary, Federico Garcia Lorca, a tribute to Lorca’s poetry and to his place in the tradition, of course, but also a tribute from a survivor to one who was killed in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

Alberti also penned poems about Garcilaso de la Vega and Pablo Neruda, which I have posted on this site.


Sal tú, bebiendo campos y ciudades,
en largo ciervo de agua convertido,
hacia el mar de las albas claridades,
del martín-pescador mecido nido;

que yo saldré a esperarte amortecido,
hecho junco, a las altas soledades
herido por el aire y requerido
por tu voz, sola entre las tempestades.

Deja que escriba, débil junco frío,
mi nombre en esas aguas corredoras,
que el viento llama, solitario, río.

Disuelto ya en tu nieve el nombre mío,
vuélvete a tus montañas trepadoras
ciervo de espuma, rey del monterío.

De «Marinero en tierra»

From <https://losmejorespoemasbyghj.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/rafael-alberti-poemas/&gt;

This is a sonnet, nicely constructed and neatly balanced to bring out characteristics of the two poets. The first four lines are focussed on Lorca, inviting him to come out from the fields and cities where he is at home, and come towards the sea, where Alberti is in his element. Lorca would be like a deer moving like water towards the sea, a sea swirling round like a kingfisher’s nest. The second four lines has the poet Alberti moving in the opposite direction, coming out of the sea to meet Lorca, like a log washed up on the shore after a storm. Thus we have a vision of the two poets, meeting like forces of nature on the wild shore, each having sought out the other.

The final six lines have Alberti writing his name in the waters of the river, symbolically but transitorily, for Lorca to internalise and then return inland to the mountains where he is the king, the deer who roams the slopes. Thus each of the two poets has come to the other and has taken something from the other, in terms of the tradition, the sensibility, the fellow-feeling of two poets steeped in their art.

The Poetry Dude

No dormiréis, malditos de la espada,

It looks like Rafael Alberti wrote this poem almost immediately on hearing of the death of the great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (featured a number of times on this blog). Neruda died a few days after a military coup in Chile, and it was rumoured that Neruda might have been targetted and killed by the new military rulers, who were indeed rounding up and sometimes killing known leftist sympathizers. I turned out that Neruda actually died of sickness and old age, the timing of his death was a coincidence, but since Alberti himself was in exile as a result of the military dictatorship in Spain, this poem is as much about the poet’s anger at events as it is about the death of Neruda.

A Pablo Neruda, con Chile en el corazón
(Rafael Alberti)

No dormiréis, malditos de la espada,
cuervos nocturnos de sangrientas uñas,
tristes cobardes de las sombras tristes,
violadores de muertos.

No dormiréis.

Su noble canto, su pasión abierta,
su estatura más alta que las cumbres,
con el cántico libre de su pueblo
os ahogarán un día.

No dormiréis.

Venid a ver su casa asesinada,
la miseria fecal de vuestro odio,
su inmenso corazón pisoteado,
su pura mano herida.

No dormiréis.

No dormiréis porque ninguno duerme.
No dormiréis porque su luz os ciega.
No dormiréis porque la muerte es sólo –
vuestra victoria.
No dormiréis jamás porque estáis muertos.

Fustigada Luz, 1978

From <http://www.poetasandaluces.com/poema.asp?idPoema=569&gt;

So, right from the beginning of the poem, it is addressed to the new military rulers of Chile (led by General Pinochet, who, years later, was arrested and held for a while in London). The first words, “you will not sleep” are repeated throughout the poem, either as a call to their conscience or as a reminder that they will always be subject to revenge. They are “malditos de la espada”, accursed wielders of the sword; and the vituperative language continues – the military are crows with bloody claws, cowardly shadows, rapers of the dead.

The second stanza immediately contrasts this dark picture of the generals with praise of the poet Neruda, his noble verse, his enormous stature and his connection to the voice of the people who will one day overthrow the soldiers.

The third stanza invites us to contemplate the poet’s house, the results of the soldier’s hate and Neruda’s heart trampled by the military.

After repeating again the refrain, “you will not sleep”, the fourth stanza begins every line, with this phrase, finishing with the ultimate rejection “you will not sleep because you are already dead”.

So this poem is not so much about Neruda himself, but it is a cry of anger and protest at yet another bloody military insurrection, repeating what Alberti had himself lived through under General Franco. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much that the premise of the poem turned out to be false; the anger itself was entirely justified and is conveyed very effectively by Rafael Alberti.

The Poetry Dude

Si Garcilaso volviera, 

Part of the continuity of poetic tradition is the recognition in verse by poets of their predecessors and models. In today’s poem, we have a poet of the 20th century, Rafael Alberti paying tribute to one of the great poets of the sixteenth century, Garcilaso de la Vega. But the tribute is not for his poetry but for his status as a soldier and knight. Garcilaso was a commander in the Spanish army, and was killed in active duty when campaigning in Italy when he was in his 30s. The idea of the poet as soldier clearly caught Alberti’s imagination.

If Garcilaso came back to life, I would be his squire, what a good knight he was… A simple idea, finely expressed.

Si Garcilaso volviera,
yo sería su escudero;
que buen caballero era.

Mi traje de marinero
se trocaría en guerrera
ante el brillar de su acero;
que buen caballero era.

¡Qué dulce oírle, guerrero,
al borde de su estribera!
En la mano, mi sombrero;
que buen caballero era.

From <http://www.poesi.as/ramt2412.htm&gt;

Alberti has a romantic view of Garcilaso on his horse with his sword drawn, a kind of real-life don Quijote fighting for good and virtue. Alberti would stand by the horse holding the stirrup, proud to be in service to the great knight, a kind of Sancho Panza.

Although there is no mention of Garcilaso as a poet here, this is clearly a tribute from one fine poet to another.

The Poetry Dude

Las tierras, las tierras, las tierras de España,

Rafael Alberti was a contemporary of Federico Garcia Lorca in the first third of the twentieth century, at least until Lorca was executed by the nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 (Alberti managed to escape from Spain and lived many years in South America). Anyway, it feels that this poem could have been written by either one of these poets, with the theme of the horse galloping headlong across the country, symbolizing the country of Spain running full tilt, mindlessly, towards disaster. Just as the country will end up torn, divided and mortally wounded, the horse, with death in its saddle and nobody to stop it, will end up plunging into the sea. Lorca also included themes of horses in a number of his poems. I don’t know quite when this poem was written either, but its sense of urgency and despair point to the period in the early 1930s when violence and unreconcilable political differences were already beginning to set Spain on the course of confrontation which would end up in Franco’s bloody uprising and ultimate victory. And then 40 years of repression and depression from which the country is only now still recovering.


Las tierras, las tierras, las tierras de España,
las grandes, las solas, desiertas llanuras.
Galopa, caballo cuatralbo,
jinete del pueblo,
al sol y a la luna.
¡A galopar,
a galopar,
hasta enterrarlos en el mar!
A corazón suenan, resuenan, resuenan
las tierras de España, en las herraduras.
Galopa, jinete del pueblo,
caballo cuatralbo,
caballo de espuma.
¡A galopar,
a galopar,
hasta enterrarlos en el mar!
Nadie, nadie, nadie, que enfrente no hay nadie;
que es nadie la muerte si va en tu montura.
Galopa, caballo cuatralbo,
jinete del pueblo,
que la tierra es tuya.
¡A galopar,
a galopar,
hasta enterrarlos en el mar!

From <http://www.poesi.as/ragalopa.htm&gt;

The Poetry Dude

Deje por ti mis bosques, mi perdida

Rafael Alberti was one of those poets who left Spain for exile after the Spanish Civil War brought Franco to power. Those who stayed, like Garcia Lorca were not so fortunate – Lorca was shot by Franco’s troops. However, exile was not easy either, particularly as World War 2 started soon after, and a number of Spanish refugees found themselves in territory controlled by Germany or its allies. Whatever, their circumstances, the experience of exile could become a source of poetic inspiration, as in this sonnet from Alberti, which looks like it was written in Rome, where the poet lived after spending many years in Argentina.


Dejé por ti mis bosques, mi perdida
arboleda, mis perros desvelados,
mis capitales años desterrados
hasta casi el invierno de la vida.

Dejé un temblor, dejé una sacudida,
un resplandor de fuegos no apagados,
dejé mi sombra en los desesperados
ojos sangrantes de la despedida.

Dejé palomas tristes junto a un río,
caballos sobre el sol de las arenas,
dejé de oler la mar, dejé de verte.

Dejé por ti todo lo que era mío.
Dame tú, Roma, a cambio de mis penas,
tanto como dejé para tenerte.

From <http://www.poesi.as/rarpc050.htm&gt;

Most of the poem is taken up with things the poet has lost, left behind and for which he feels longing. These are either tangible parts of his experience like woods, dogs, rivers, horses running along a beach; or just emotions or sensations – the lost years away from his native land. It as is if he has been torn away from his natural place in the world. The final two lines are a forlorn appeal to the city of Rome, where he resides, to give him some tangible equivalent experience in exchange for what he has lost. The balance of the poem indicates that this cannot be, so it leaves a sense of sadness and loss for the reader as well as the poet.

Alberti was able to return to Spain in old age, after the death of Franco in the late 1970s, but of course, by then he had experienced decades of exile, with the feelings expressed in this poem.

The Poetry Dude

Por amiga, por amiga,

Here is a very appealing poem by Rafael Alberti. It is so short, almost haiku-like in its conciseness, you hardly realise you have read it when you get to the end, yet it makes you think a lot harder than you might anticipate. A poem about the battle of the sexes….


Por amiga, por amiga.
Sólo por amiga.
Por amante, por querida.
Sólo por querida.
Por esposa, no.
Sólo por amiga.

From <http://www.poesi.as/raam001.htm&gt;
It reminds me of the saying that women say they want sex because they count on it leading to love and marriage; whereas men say they want love and marriage because they count on it leading to sex. Well, here Alberti is a bit more self-aware, or honest – he wants a lover and a friend, not a wife.

I love the repetitions, the short lines, the rhythms of this piece. They really help to make it memorable and thus support the basic idea.

What about the title, “Madrid”? Is it the place where Alberti wrote the poem? Is it the place where he met the woman he wants for his friend and lover, but not wife? Does it have anything to do with the rest of the poem? I have no idea.

The Poetry Dude